Is there such thing as a good billionaire? After all they’ve given us so much, like cancer research and the unicorn Frappuccino, which is probably cancerous so that one’s a wash. But do those good deeds make up for their incredible amount of wealth? I’m Francesca Fiorentini, and in this episode of Newsbroke, we’re looking at myths about so-called “benevolent billionaires.” It’s a hard time to be a billionaire. As if maintenance costs on your Gulfstream weren’t high enough, the failures of capitalism mean your disproportionately large slice of the pie has you looking like a snack. Look at Bezos. He’s such a snack. We should eat him. No really. We should eat the rich There are more billionaires now than there have ever been in history. And together they’re worth 8.7 trillion dollars. Some people are so enamored with the idea of extreme wealth, they talk about billionaires like they’re talking about the Backstreet Boys. Who’s your favorite billionaire in America? Bernie hesitated like he was asked, “What’s your favorite cancer?” Prostate. But the tide of popular opinion is turning against billionaires, as extreme inequality is putting a spotlight on extreme hoarding. Some see such exorbitant wealth as a flaw in our economic system and think that we should abolish billionaires. And that kind of criticism has got some ultra rich feeling ultra fragile. Do you agree that billionaires have too much power in American public life? The—the moniker “billionaire” now has become the—the catchphrase. I would rephrase that, and I would say that people of means have been able to— Whoa whoa whoa whoa “people of means?” Do the rich things that “billionaire” is their N-word? Only we’re allowed to call each other that. And always with a soft “Ah.” Billion-Ah. Whether or not billionaires should exist, they do. And some are giving back. So let’s look at those not-immoral billionaires—the ones who claim to be good. We’re told they’re self-made, that many believe in paying higher taxes, and that they all give to charity. Claims that we’re going to dive into. Before we do, let me say there are plenty of unrepentant a[censored]hole billionaires completely unconcerned with appearing benevolent. The Koch brother… …who made their money by ravaging the earth and then helping deny climate change, Hedge fund manager, Robert Mercer, who helped fund Trump, Brexit and Breitbart “News.” And billionaire, Rupert Murdoch, who’s the head honcho of Fox News—the top dog, the big cheese, the Grand Wizard if you will. Unlike our child heir of a president, the good billionaires are… well, actual billionaires—and are often referred to as being self-made. Bill Gates: self-made man. Warren Buffett: self-made man. Named the youngest self-made billionaire by Forbes magazine. We have a number of self-made—They didn’t get it from family. They did it on their own. You’re a… mil—billionaire or whatever you are. A millionaire or whatever. But it’s like, you’re self-made. Millionaire or billionaire or whatever? Look at how salty Bloomberg is about that lack of distinction. Release the hounds, or whatever. These are smart guys with good ideas. They probably didn’t kill anybody to get to the top, and—unlike certain so-called self billionaires— Zuckerberg’s butt is real, if you must know. But take Bill Gates, the billionaire-est of the billionaires, who’s often commended for being one of the good ones. He didn’t exactly play by the rules. During his time at Microsoft the company was found guilty of violating antitrust laws and putting an oppressive thumb on the scale of competition in order to secure its status as a monopoly. Over the years the company has paid hundreds of millions in settlements and narrowly avoided being broken up. Never mind Microsoft’s murder and coverup of Clippy the virtual assistant. Clippy knew too much, and he started talking. Didn’t he? Didn’t he?! Or take Tom Steyer, another one-percenter, presidential candidate. He’s a former hedge fund manager who says he cares deeply about the climate. The climate proposal that I put out about two weeks ago. It is the most aggressive climate proposal by far in this campaign. Yet part of why he’s a billionaire is thanks to his firm bankrolling projects like coal mines in countries like China and Indonesia. Apparently, since getting an investment, those mines are now producing 70 million more tons of coal, and as late as 2014 Steyer was still a passive investor, despite his claims of divestment. On top of that, Steyer wastes millions on nationwide impeachment ads when he lives in Nancy Pelosi’s district. Just leave a severed horse head in her bed with a note that says “Impeach” like a normal person. As for Mark Zuckerberg’s self-made status, we’ve all seen The Social Network. We know he stole the idea for Facebook, just like he steals our data every day to rake in even more money. You didn’t make you, Mark. My mom clicking on face cream ads did… …and she regrets it. Zuckerberg calling himself “self-made” is like Frankenstein’s monster saying, “Actually, me self-made monster.” [Laughter] Economist and former Bernie Sanders advisor, Stephanie Kelton, busted the myth of self-made billionaires when she wrote No one makes a billion dollars. You take a billion dollars. You take it from your workers. You plunder it from the environment. You strip it using patent protections. And she’s right. Calling someone a “self-made billionaire” is kind of like calling someone a self-made Everest-climber. [Heavy breathing] I am totally self-made. There were no ropes, no harnesses, no three Sherpas who carried my stuff to the top. Well, two now… Good billionaires claim they want higher taxes, and yet when a hint of a 70% tax rate was floated by AOC on people with income of ten million dollars or more, some got nervous. I—I think you can make the tax system, uh, take a much higher portion from people with great wealth. Seventy percent? Seventy percent? [Cheers] Well, that [Cheers continue] The applause-o-meter has spoken, Bill. These great fortunes were not made through ordinary income, so you probably have to look to the capital gains rate and the estate tax. Bit of a deflection, but on one level Gates is right. Capital gains are basically where a corporation can deduct nearly every expense they have: salaries, investments, even debt. An estate tax law allows a parent to give a child up to eleven million dollars tax-free. Add to that dividends, which are payments to shareholders that have a fixed tax no matter how large the payout. And Billionaires are basically able to play the financial system by using their money to make even more. That’s why, for example, Bernie Sanders’s 2016 plan wanted to double taxes on capital gains and dividends, and raise investment income tax to ten percent. So how about it, Bill? I think that’s a great debate. I think if you go so far as to say that there’s a total upper limit that that might have more negatives than positives. but, you know, I—I—I may have a distorted view of this. Probably a little distorted, Bill—Where the f[censored]ck is Clippy?! Maybe we shouldn’t ask the billionaires what their tax rate should be. That’d be like asking Panda Express to give itself its own health score. Four bamboo shoots and a raisin? Those aren’t even numbers. But Gates’s warning about a negative impact almost sounds like a threat. We know that the wealthy have offshore accounts and many accountants to find and exploit every tax loophole Microsoft itself, which Gates still holds shares of, has avoided paying billions in taxes around the world by juggling profits between different countries. So if Gates is so woke on taxes, is he in favor of closing those corporate loopholes that he’s used? Or will he find even more ways to evade? What about Warren Buffett, who was actually Bernie’s answer to that very dumb question earlier. I think Warren Buffett has said some decent things. When you have a billionaire who talks about raising taxes on the rich, I think he deserves some credit. Sure. Buffett has famously argued for more taxes on the wealthy, saying that he and his quote “mega rich friends” can afford it, which is such a big humblebrag. Me, Elon, Oprah and the rest of the illuminaa—rich people are happy to pay more in taxes before we blast off for Elysium. Buh bye. …Buh bye. But, like Gates, when pressed, Buffett warns against doing too much to disrupt a system that has worked out really well …for him. The inequality gap has widened and will continue to widen unless something is done about it, but I also believe that the most important single thing is to have more golden eggs to distribute around. Uh, so I don’t want to do anything to the—to the goose that lays the golden eggs, and we’ve had the goose that lays more and more golden eggs over the years. Sure, and for every golden egg, there are 10,000 balls of duck sh[censored]t. Ooh look! Mine’s got a sunflower seed. What about charity? Good billionaires give to charity, right? And yet charity is often what shields the ultra-wealthy from agreeing to any structural change. Listen to Michael Dell of Dell computers balk at the idea of more taxes. There are growing calls to address these inequalities—particularly the wage inequality with more taxes. Michael Dell, do you support this? [Laughter] Wow. [Laughter] [Laughter] I haven’t laughed this hard since the help slipped on a Fabergé egg, and fell into the pool and drowned. [Laughter] My wife and I set up a foundation, and I feel much more comfortable with our ability as a private foundation to allocate those funds than I do giving them to the government. Wow. Dell’s basically saying that he can do more through private philanthropy than any Democratically elected government could ever do through taxes. And he’s not alone. Many billionaires boast about their generous donations. But the gesture is as generous as it is self-serving. Warren Buffett and Bill Gates started The Giving Pledge: a billionaire’s promised to give away most of their wealth over their lifetime. Over 170 billionaires have signed it, including Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg. But the pledge doesn’t specify how or in what timeframe to give away your wealth. So you could give it to public health programs like Bill & Melinda, or to a fancy new wing at your alma mater, or use it to buy portraits of yourself. Either way, press is good, and no one really follows up. Plus, billionaires have gotten really good at using charity to dodge taxes. They donate to something called “donor advised funds,” which allow them tax breaks and more control on how the money’s invested, and they donate in stocks—not cash—for yet even more tax breaks. The highly publicized Chan Zuckerberg initiative, which was promoted as the Facebook founder giving away 99% of his wealth, was actually, as one reporter put it, an LLC where he moved his wealth from one pocket to another. But forget tax incentives. Donations help the wealthy maintain power. Think about it: You not only get to put your name hospitals, schools, museums and fancy foundations of your choosing, but you potentially also have influence over what those institutions do. Also, if you think about it, celebrating billionaires who plaster their names all over buildings is kind of how we got into this mess to begin with. According to one author critical of philanthropic giving, donating can actually just reinforce a broken economic system. A lot of the elite helpfulness in our time is part of how we maintain the hoarding. We do giving in ways that protect the opportunity to keep taking. And we seek to change the world in ways carefully chosen to not change our world. Charitable donations from benevolent billionaires often end up being stopgap measures or pet projects for issues that need real solutions. Part of the Chan Zuckerberg initiative was handing out grants to the tune of three million dollars to aid the housing crisis in Silicon Valley—a crisis Facebook absolutely exacerbated. It’s a bit like an arsonist holding a bake sale for his local fire department. I just wanted to give back. Billionaire Richard Branson once pledged 3 billion dollars to fight climate change that he never delivered on, and instead, turned around and expanded his North American fleet of airliners, and then he took Obama kitesurfing while we were in the Death Grips of the first month of the Trump administration. So f[censored]ck you again. Billionaires aren’t inherently terrible people, and many have done good things. But at a time of massive inequality, shouldn’t they give up a whole lot more? when Buffett, Bezos and Gates own more wealth than the bottom half of the country, you have to ask yourself: How moral is it to have that much at all? Even if you had Romneys of children and build yourself multiple theme parks, you could still end world hunger by giving it all up and living in a condo. Maybe it’s time to stop lauding the good will of billionaires, and start seeing them as the reason we’ve got all this duck sh[censored]t to clean up. Thanks again for watching Newsbroke. I’m Francesca Fiorentini Follow me on Twitter and Instagram at @Franifio. Follow AJ+ on YouTube and Newsbroke on Facebook Watch, and all the things, all the buttons—Remember to share this video with people who really need to hear it. And let me know in the comments whether you think that being a billionaire is immoral. Now, of course no one is talking about actually eating Warren Buffett’s liver, but like, if you were offered it, would you accept? Thanks again, and we’ll see you next week.